Echelon Explorations: Polyhedral Pantheons
#7 of my Top Ten of 2017
This supplement clocks in at 42 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages blank after ToC and SRD, respectively (odd), 1 page back cover, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page reading “appendices” before the SRD, leaving us with 33 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This was moved up in my review-queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreons.
So, what is this? Well, have you read Rose of the Prophet? No, well, all right: Basically, it is a system that defines deities and their values, if you will, as an interconnected geometrical shape – which also, by virtue of connections, situates neutral deities as a mix of good and evil -it is basically a way to generate a spatially-consistent model of a pantheon’s abstract interactions and, by its spatial depiction, of contextualizing the deities thus.
We have a system for pantheon-creation on our hands here, and one that has an intrinsic value as far as I’m concerned, but we’ll get back to that in the conclusion. Before all of that, the pdf actually, like a proper scientific paper, explains and defines its nomenclature. In all brevity: points are corners of the polyhedron, faces are flat surfaces, edges are folds between adjacent faces. All of these are subsumed under the hyperonym “site” and adjacent sites…well are sites adjacent to one another. neighboring sites are defined as sites that require the crossing of an edge. If all of that sounds complicated, it is only due to me being exceedingly brief – visualizing the definitions isn’t difficult.
Sites sport a primary and a secondary domain and faces and points are the places where deities can be found in this abstract geometric shape.
So, how do we proceed regarding pantheon-creation? We choose a polyhedron, with the common roleplaying dice all covered – we count sites, points and faces – and if you want to use one of the standard roleplaying dice-shapes, you won’t even have to do that, for the pdf lists these in a concise table. Then, we assign a domain to each face and point, group domains and identify, finally, chosen weapons. If the domain breakdown sounds like work, it’s not: a) the calculation is really simple and b), the pdf actually takes care of that aspect as well in aforementioned table.
Better yet – this cliff-notes version is explained in surprising detail and in a didactically sound manner. A handy d% table even may take that domain/subdomain/favored weapon choice aspect off your hands, if you just want an easy to use generator…or need a place to start. Roll a couple and then start choosing. Even cooler: If you’re using Exalted domains (from Rogue Genius Games’ books) or hybrid domains, the pdf has you covered. Interesting here: The pdf observes that most of the dice employed here are duals – i.e. faces and points hold the same spatial relationships – but the human mind does seem to treat these different shapes differently. In my uses of the system, I ended up creating different pantheons with different dice, pointing towards interesting observations regarding the interaction of our spatial conceptions and the way in which we design.
I digress, sorry.
So, this is the base system – it is elegant and surprisingly effective; in contrast to traditional pantheon-building from scratch, it can generate some rather astonishing concepts for deities that are surprisingly different from those we know and quote endlessly. It’s uncanny, really – I never noticed how much my knowledge of mythology had shaped design-paradigms I employed in pantheon creation until I used this pdf.
Anyways, the pdf then proceeds to guide us through a step by step process – first, create a simple deity description; then establish setting information and after that, go for the fine details. As an aside that should be evident for anyone using this: Obviously, the *absence” of a deity and domain can can make for an amazing story as well – what happened to those deities? Did they die? Were they banished? The system, while explained for polyhedrons, btw. also works for pretty much any geometric shape you can picture, with only a minimum amount of work – you could conceivably generate uneven shapes, shapes with holes, etc. – all possible, though perhaps slightly more advanced than a vanilla use of the system.
But perhaps you are not yet sold on the use of the engine – well, the pdf does not provide one or two, but 3 fully detailed pantheons for your convenience: We get to know the shu-shi pantheon of halfling deities, based on China (!!!) and the goblin pantheon, both of which sport 3 general groups and the elemental tetrahedron, which sports 4 groups of deities. Each of these deities sports favored weapon, symbols, alignment domains and the fluff for the deity, usually around 100 – 150 words. Beyond the shu-shi being a BRILLIANT idea, the pantheons also showcase their creation, with a filled-out work-sheet depicting the respective polyhedrons and the sheets do an amazing job illustrating how the system works – the correlation between the placement and the respective deities, the way by which the spatial place influences character and design, is uncanny…in a good way.
Wait a second? Work-sheets? Yep, the pdf comes with a second file that contains pdf work-sheets for d20s, d12s, d10s, d8s, alternate d8s, d6s and d4s…oh, AND it comes with an excel spreadsheet as well!
Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant hiccups. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly, clean and well-structured two-column standard with blue highlights – it’s nothing to write home about, but then again, swirlies, pictures and graphical elements would actually detract from the appeal here. The pd has no artworks, but needs none. The pdf comes with detailed, nested bookmarks for your convenience and the inclusion of worksheets and excel table must be applauded. Minor nitpick: It would have been nice to have the worksheets as form-fillable, but oh well.
Keith Davies’ Polyhedral Pantheons have been an amazing experience to review. I can honestly say that I have NEVER reviewed anything like it for a roleplaying game. This brought me back to my days in academia in the most amazing of ways. Perhaps you can relate, if not, let me elaborate: You see, I absolutely relish the feeling when I am presented with an interesting system; then, I ponder it, use it and suddenly, a whole infinity of possibilities, an eureka effect, an unfettering of one’s mind from a preconceived notion, happens. What was previously a subconscious, defining and limiting trait suddenly is exposed and abolished in favor of a system that can generate and inspire beyond even its specific thesis.
In short: Science! The ideal of humanist growth. Call me pretentious, but it is my firm conviction that this is the very foundation of what makes roleplaying games so amazing: We constantly have theses about worlds, rules etc. – we experiment with them and modify our canon of shared knowledge. To a degree, we are engaging in a playful variant of scientific experimentation whenever we roll those dice and create new worlds, rules and places. We employ the canon of our accumulated knowledge and even have a sort of peer-review system – among gamers at one’s table, among designers and reviewers.
It is astounding to me, then, that this pdf manages to so thoroughly blow my mind. While it has sample pantheons, I am hesitant to call it a supplement – this is a tool, but not one that expands an existent line of thought, but one that applies a unique concept in a didactically sound manner and thus expands one’s horizon. I know, I know. The above sounds dry. I don’t want to lie – it kinda is…until you actually use it and realize something.
The pantheons we grew up with, from Greek to Norse to the Forgotten Realms and beyond…they operate by similar tropes and rules and, by employing this system, you have a geometric shape, which, by virtue of its existence, can generate basically an infinite amount of deities and relationship-structures that transcend these notions. The one limiting factor is no longer there – the conception of hegemonic pantheons is replaced with a highly fluid and diverse, extremely hackable process that eliminates easily and reliably the shackles we unwittingly place upon our own imagination.
As mentioned before, creating blank spaces, modifying shapes etc. and the domain-selection itself can all be used to add basically infinite possibilities to the system. And the results of these uses will provide plenty of surprises that can get the creative juices flowing in ways I have not seen in a long time.
Even better: Guess what? Even while this has been written for PFRPG, actually, it can be used for pretty much any system you’d want to use. Replace domains with abstract concepts, virtues, sins…and you can conceivably generate your own system of morality, deific interactions and the like, regardless of system employed.
Which brings me to the statement above, when I mentioned an intrinsic value: This humble pdf, to me, is an eye-opener, a glorious tool and a great way to jumpstart one’s imagination. The main draw here does not lie within flowery prose or tight math – this, in short, has value because of its IDEA. Because, like the best of ideas, it generates a cascade, an infinite oscillation of inspiration.
I could ramble on for days about how this pdf changed how I think about the pantheon aspect of world and culture-building, but then again, you probably already have realized it: If you want a ready to go pantheon, this delivers, yes – but you’re missing out on the best this has to offer if that’s all you want. This is a tool for creators, for designers, for the inspired, for those that want their horizons expanded.
This is an absolutely glorious, amazing tool. I adore it. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval and this gets my EZG Essentials tag as a must-own GM-design-tool. It also, unsurprisingly, qualifies for my Top Ten of 2017. Seriously. Get this. Think about it…and then realize that you’ll never design pantheons the same way.
You can get this glorious tool here on OBS!